Affirmative Action Ruling Maintains Inequality

Kyle Seasly

On March 4, 1801, Thomas Jefferson proclaimed in his first inaugural address, “All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.”

When the Supreme Court upheld Michigan’s 2006 constitutional amendment banning racial preferences in admitting students to public universities, they failed to take into account that the amendment was a clear example of tyranny of the majority. Eighty percent of Michigan’s residents are white, and the amendment passed with 60 percent of the vote. As a registered voter in Michigan, I am ashamed that this constitutional amendment was passed. (Then again, I could not vote at the time). But as a citizen of the United States I am further ashamed that the Supreme Court would uphold such a deplorable measure.

In an ideal world there would be no need for affirmative action. People would be judged, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once noted, based on the content of their character, rather than the color of their skin. This, however, is not the reality today. Rather than addressing the problem of racial inequalities in K-12 schools, the voters of Michigan chose in 2006 to make sure the inequality that existed there continued at the collegiate level. Since the ban in Michigan passed, and in states that have passed similar laws, the rate of minority enrollment has declined in contrast to a growing minority population.

The amendment represented complete self-interest on behalf of Michigan’s voters. Many voters imagined a scenario where a less qualified minority student was admitted over a qualified white student. The amendment failed to address the widespread problems of racial inequality in public schools across the state. Instead, the white voters of Michigan covered their own tails first rather than addressing the problem head-on.

For example, I went to East Grand Rapids High School. It wasn’t a private school, but the school was 90-95 percent white. My parents chose to live there because the school system was outstanding. The property taxes were high, but I got a good education there that allowed me to be relatively prepared for Whitman. The graduation rate for my school varied between 90-99 percent, depending on the year.

Across the state, the average high school graduation rate for white Michiganders in 2010 was 80 percent. The average graduation rate for black students, on the other hand, was only 54 percent. The fact is, these odds aren’t fair. The issue of K-12 education needs to be addressed before we start banning racial preferences. Only when the graduation rates are equal can we even begin to consider the amendment as being fair. Now, the amendment just allows for further civic inequality.

Justice Kennedy declared in his opinion that, “This case is not about how the debate about racial preferences should be resolved. It is about who may resolve it.” But how can the Supreme Court let those who resolve it act so openly in their own self-interest? Should voters, the majority of whom are white, be allowed to address racial issues that they are largely unaffected by and could possibly benefit from?

These are the questions I have for the Supreme Court. Justice Sotomayor, in her dissent, seemed to be echoing Jefferson when she stated, “The constitution does not protect racial minorities from political defeat, but neither does it give the majority free rein to erect selective barriers against racial minorities.”